Is living in the basement of your dream house better or worse than not living in it at all?
Scratchies are, or purport to be, colorful cardboard game changers, small paper plot twists, mass-produced dei ex machinae.
My fantasy of what will happen if I win is, in its own way, as sadly rational as my move to New York.
I imagine calling up Sallie Mae to ask how they prefer I make my final payment, seeing as it’s such a large amount-wire transfer, perhaps?
Beth Boyle Machlan was born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and now lives in Carroll Gardens with her daughters.
My hopes aren’t as high as they used to be, mainly because I know the difference between what I want and what I can actually do.
I often wonder what my grandparents would say about my brother and me returning to the city they worked so hard to get us out of, but perhaps New York’s most enduring quality is the way it keeps us wanting.
Scratchies offer the chance to jump genres in a matter of minutes, to move you and your family from a dark, damp naturalist novella to an airy four-story romance zoned for P.S.
To a scratchy addict, playing Megamillions or Powerball seems boring, even fiscally conservative.
The few discussions I’ve had with friends who also play reveal an almost universal association between their ticket purchases and their mood. There’s no champagne or limousines or dinner at Per Se, just me at my desk with my checkbook and a stack of bills.
Twenty years later, post graduation, I commuted from their house to a marketing job in midtown. The Plaza palace my Eloise self craved at 6 became a 5th Avenue pied-a-terre at 12 (belonging to my friend’s divorced dad), a Soho loft at 16 (school-sponsored gallery crawl), and then a West Village garden apartment at 23 (housesitting). Yes, the jackpots are bigger, but the chits are thin and colorless and the wait until the drawing interminable-more like planning for retirement (yawn) than playing a game.


I imagine the operator’s initial disbelief, and how my calm demeanor eventually convinces her to take my picture off the Most-Wanted wall and close my account for good. She recently appeared in Representing Segregation: Toward an Aesthetics of Living Jim Crow, and Other Forms of Racial Division. This is my story, a true story of how my life changed since winning the lottery in April 2006. The electric giddiness New York used to elicit in me every time I climbed, blinking, out of Grand Central into a night striped with skyscrapers?
I ran away to Maine after seeing a long line of weary people block a seeing-eye dog and his owner from boarding an escalator near the 6 train. Scratchers need the right now, the feeling of mastery that comes with choosing and defacing the surface of what could be a whole new world.
Others play when they feel down, for the cheap hit of serotonin that anticipation provides. With apologies to Prospero and the magical islands of New York, these mundane moments are the stuff my grownup dreams are made on. Yes, I know, Megamillions costs just a dollar and a dream, but I don’t have time for dreaming. By the time I was ready and able to come back, just this summer, people like me wanted Brooklyn brownstones.
Just one mess remains, that dark tower of steadily growing debt, which is apparently immune to apologies and antibiotics.
Spooled like tape or ribbon behind a thin panel of plastic, the scratchies look to me like I imagine cash register candy looks to a hungry, irritable child-an easy panacea-a way to even the score for all the indignities of the last hour, day or decade. Only after visualizing that pile of paper gone do I allow myself less pragmatic fantasies, like a walkthrough of my most recent dream house. Worse, it’s also immune to on-time minimum payments, and (since the bulk is student loans) to bankruptcy.


The concept of credit is based on a future brighter than the present; it assumes that your ship will come in. What does it feel like to be the exception, to look down at the card and see match after match, three pots of gold, three tiny flat black piles of cash followed by $25,000, $100,000, ONE MILLION? There have been bad days when I’ve bought ticket after ticket from the same bright skein, stubborn as a toddler, certain for whatever asinine reason that today, I deserve to win. The one anecdote I heard otherwise may be apocryphal: a statistics professor who bought a single scratchy to use in a lesson on probability ended up winning $20,000. It is, of course, a tastefully-renovated brownstone in the historic district just a few blocks from my basement, and offers a gourmet kitchen, a paneled library-ooh, with one of those ladders that runs on a rail!-and a whole bright floor for my daughters. One $2 scratch-off lottery ticket is all that lies between me and solvency, and $5 could buy me success. The sad thing is that, other than education, I can’t even remember what I bought, or thought I needed.
I can sit behind Fairway and scan the harbor until my eyeballs dry, but at this point I’m pretty sure none of those boats are mine.
Through the fanlight on the third-floor landing I can see Brooklyn Harbor, where a small boat laden with all my accidents chugs away from my new world. I watch for a while as it beats on against the current, back into the past where it belongs. All I know is that in spite of her upscale upbringing and four degrees from name-brand schools, the Irish girl is back in a Brooklyn basement, overeducated and utterly screwed.




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